Physician-Profiling Web Sites Often Inaccurate, Incomplete, Commonwealth Fund Report Says
Consumers who turn to physician-profiling Web sites for help in choosing a physician are likely to find "significant gaps in the accuracy and completeness" of the information provided, according to a new report from health care advocacy group the Commonwealth Fund. Titled "Accessing Physician Information on the Internet," the report says that unless health care organizations work together to improve the information available through such sites, the Internet will fail to fulfill its potential as a valuable health care resource for the public. Researchers from the Waltham-based Massachusetts Health Data Consortium, who conducted the study, reviewed a total of 40 Web sites sponsored by hospitals, health plans, and commercial and government organizations. They found that many sites offered incomplete, poorly organized and inaccurate or outdated data. For example, few Web sites allowed users to search for specific types of information about physicians -- even if the data was available somewhere on the site. Only one-third of the sites allowed users to search for physicians who spoke a specific language, and just one site allowed users to search for physicians who were accepting new patients. Many sites offered basic information about physicians' education, years in practice, insurance accepted and specialties, as well as information about office locations and hours. Some Web sites also provided patient evaluations of physicians or offered physician ratings based on outcomes measures, such as deaths or complications. None of the sites, however, included all of the information. Researchers also noted that some of the sites included only a limited number of physicians in their coverage area.
Researchers concluded that health care accrediting organizations, health plans, hospitals and industry organizations should cooperate to improve the quality and consistency of the information on physician-profiling sites. Researchers suggested a "minimum data set" of information that should be available on the sites, which includes:
- statements about the size of the database and the limitations of physician performance data;
- percentage of the active physician population the database covers;
- date that the information was last updated or verified;
- a description of how information was gathered;
- disclosure statements about data sources and any fees required for physicians to participate;
- data on the number of participants included in patient satisfaction or experience surveys;
- a description of the recommendation process and its limitations; and
- explanations for any empty data fields in a physician's profile (Stone et al., "Accessing Physician Information on the Internet," January 2002).
The report is available at http://www.cmwf.org/programs/quality/stone_mdinternet_503.pdf. Note: You must have Adobe Acrobat Reader to view the report. This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.